Despite uproar and heated debates, the BJP managed to get the Citizenship (Amendment) bill passed in both houses of the Parliament.
With Assam and Tripura bearing the brunt of the Bill, Army had to be deployed and very little could be done to console people of the north-eastern states.
The bill grants Indian citizenship to non-Muslims immigrants, persons belonging to minority communities – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who came to India before 2015.
However, a look at history would suggest that illegal immigration has not been a recent issue India faces as the BJP is portraying it to be.
The issue of illegal immigration has been around since Independence, as a result of which the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act of 1950 was legislated and an NRC prepared on the basis of the 1951 Census to take stock of the situation.
In 1947 during Independence, India witnessed a huge influx – an estimated 10 million – of migrants and since then has been home to many people from all over the world who either move from their homeland owing religious disharmony or come looking for better economic opportunity.
What’s cooking, BJP?
According to Amit Shah, the Union Home Minister, the Bill aims to provide protection to the persecuted minorities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
He says the minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are decreasing and that they face persecution on the grounds of their faith.
But, paradoxically, the census of Pakistan shows that the Hindu population of Pakistan has not really changed significantly from its 1951 level of around 1.5–2%, according to population data studied by the BBC.
Despite the constitution of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh providing for a specific state religion, they also have constitutional provisions stating that non-Muslims have rights and are free to practise their faith.
Social service or propaganda
The major criticism that the bill faces is its point to categorically exclude Muslims who make about 200 million of India’s 1.3 billion population.
It hardly comes a surprise that BJP, perceived to be a pro-Hindutva party, chooses to not include Muslims under the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019.
In 2018, Amit Shah was quoted as saying Muslim immigrants and asylum seekers from Bangladesh were “termites” and the nation would get rid of them.
Addressing the Parliament on Tuesday, Shah said that Muslims “will not benefit from this amendment because they have not been persecuted on the basis of religion.”
During the Rajya Sabha debate, he asked the opposition whether India should grant citizenship to every Muslim coming from any anywhere in the world.
However, in a recent statement in the Rajya Sabha, Home Ministry said the data regarding Sikh and Hindu refugees who came from Afghanistan and Pakistan is not centrally maintained.
The census data is primarily the major source of information about immigrants in any country. The Centre or the states have not maintained any other data on migrants.
The latest census data available is of 2011.
According to data by the World Bank 2019, India hosts 31,03,664 Bangladeshi immigrants, 10,82,917 Pakistani immigrants and 13,501 Afghani immigrants — a total of 42 lakh (4.2 million).
Furthermore, going by the 2011 census, it could be ascertained that
· The number of people from Bangladesh in India is falling
· Immigration rate is under 0.5% in more than 500 of India’s 640 districts
Going by 2011 census figures, a lot of immigrants seem to be coming from Persian Gulf, US, Canada, UK, Australia and Africa. Some of these are those Indians who had migrated there.
The number of Indian residents born outside the country fell from 6.2 million to 5.3 million between 2001 and 2011, taking the immigration rate down from 0.6% to 0.4%, reported Livemint.
Even so, the data doesn’t answer sharp political questions. Given that a lot has changed since 2011 in every aspect — economic, demographic and geographic — this census data cannot be a proper scale to measure the number of immigrants in the country. The mix-up of inter- and intra-state migration in the data adds on to makes things unclear.
In the absence of any hard and clear-cut data regarding migrants, how the BJP came to chalk out the Citizenship amendment bill only raises more questions.